19 May 2010

Upcoming Congressional Hearing on Climate Science in the Political Arena

Tomorrow the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing on "Climate Science in the Political Arena." The committee has announced the hearing as follows:

The scientists involved in the stolen climate emails from the University of East Anglia were exonerated by the British House of Commons and an international panel of climate experts, led by Lord Oxburgh. Even after these investigations found that nothing in the emails undercut the scientific evidence of climate change, attacks against scientists continue. Reports of harassment, death threats and legal challenges have created a hostile environment, making it challenging for actual data and scientific analyses to reach the public and policymakers.

On Thursday, May 20th, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming will hold a hearing to examine the intersection between climate science and the political process. This hearing, entitled “Climate Science in the Political Arena,” will feature prominent climate scientists, some of whom have been the target of these attacks. This hearing will explore scientists’ ability to present data and information that can guide global warming solutions in a sometimes fierce political landscape.

A great irony of this event is that it is set up as a bit of political theater, using scientists as the actors on stage. The hearing witnesses include:
Dr. Ralph Cicerone, President of the National Academy of Sciences and Chair of the National Research Council
Dr. Mario Molina, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Professor, University of California at San Diego
Dr. Stephen Schneider, Professor, Stanford University
Dr. Ben Santer, Research Scientist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Dr. William Happer, Professor, Princeton University
Usually, in US Congressional hearing the majority sets the rules for the event, meaning that they get to pick the witnesses and they usually allocate one spot to the minority. In this case it is clear that Happer is the Republican witness, and the others are there at the request of the Democrats.

Were I a betting type, I'd guess that Schneider and Santer will rail against the deniers, arriving with a laundry list of offenses committed against scientists calling for action on climate change. Happer will say that skeptics have faced the same issues. Everyone will complain, but politics ain't beanbag. You can't swim without getting wet. Cicerone and Molina will have to tread carefully, representing the NAS iand Interacademy Council review of the IPCC, respectively. I'd guess that their testimony will be mainly about procedures and they will be very careful about giving any perception of prejudgment.

Notable is any inclusion on the panel of experts who actually study issues of science and politics. That is because the hearing isn't really about understanding or managing issues of science and politics, but rather, it is an exercise in seeking to gain political advantage through science. It is set up for a food fight, and that is what they will get. Far from shedding light on the politicization of climate science or how to deal with it, this hearing will just add fuel to the fire. That of course is the point. Its about politics, not science.

You can see my own role in the political theater in my testimony on this subject from a hearing held in 2007 here in pdf.